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The Taste of Success.

Byline: Jim Dudlicek

Snacks, solutions and stories among the winners of this year's new product contest.

In some ways, it's easier than ever to get a new product off the ground, while in others, it's as hard as it's ever been.

Social media, mobile devices and 24/7 online access have allowed upstarts with shoestring budgets to bypass traditional distribution channels and get their products and messages out directly to consumers. Word of mouth, amplified by Facebook, Twitter and other social media engines, can lift new products out of obscurity and into the spotlight, often compelling traditional retailers to put them on their shelves, lest they lose sales to competing channels.

But even products inspired by the most innovative ideas and that follow the latest trends aren't guaranteed success.

Case in point: Marzetti's Veggie Drizzle Finishing Sauces. Made especially for cooked vegetables, these sauces ranged from 20 to 45 calories per serving and contained no preservatives, artificial ingredients, MSG or high-fructose corn syrup. Available in four flavors, they seemed poised to be a hit with consumers, who are increasingly moving vegetables to center plate, boosting their consumption of plant-based foods while reducing their meat intake.

We loved the idea and deemed it a PG Editors' Pick. Yet as we prepared this issue for publication, we got word that Marzetti had withdrawn the product from the market due to poor sales (it's our practice to honor only products on shelf at press time).

Perhaps the timing was wrong. Maybe consumers didn't quite understand the product. We hope Marzetti has another go with this one and that it eventually clicks with the public.

In any case, it's a great example of the risk CPG companies take when they launch new products. R&D, market research, innovation, marketing, packaging -- significant investments of resources, time and talent are on the line, with many products vying for the same space.

Up to 80 percent of new CPG product launches fail, according to a 2015 Catalina study. Critical to success, the study asserts, is immediate and consistent consumer engagement. But even that won't help if the product doesn't taste good, or consumers just don't get it.

We feel that consumers will get PG's latest class of Editors' Picks. Out of 245 individual food products and 18 individual nonfood products submitted this year, we selected 76 food winners and eight nonfood winners, honored as individual products or lines, as our favorites.

Would We Buy This?

Our Editors' Picks food product evaluation team this year included PG Editor-in-Chief Jim Dudlicek, Senior Editor Randy Hofbauer, Editorial Director Joan Driggs and Progressive Grocer Independent Editor-in-Chief Katie Martin. Managing Editor Bridget Goldschmidt led evaluation of the nonfood entries.

In addition to its own assessments, the panel sought the input of other EnsembleIQ staffers, as well as family members and friends when evaluating products requiring home kitchen preparation. All input was considered, but final decisions were up to the editorial team.

Factors taken into consideration included taste, innovation, function and convenience. Other questions we asked ourselves: Is this product on trend? Does it fill a need in the marketplace? Does it create a new category, or might it breathe new life into an existing one? Is this product, in substance and price point, appropriate for the mainstream supermarket channel?

Snack foods seemed to dominate the entries this year. The best ones offered innovative flavors, better-for-you attributes and new twists on old favorites. Some examples: Angie's BoomChickaPop Sweet Barbecue Popcorn, Buck Wild popcorn and tortilla chips, Crunchies freeze-dried beets, Good Health veggie chips, Good Thins crackers, Lorissa's Kitchen protein snacks, Oreo Thins, and Skippy P.B. Bites.

Meal solution ideas also impressed us, like the Grainful Tuscan Bean & Kale Steel Cut Meal, Kahiki Bowl & Roll, LoveTheWild Red Trout with Salsa Verde, and Mann's Nourish Bowls.

Entertaining made simple is a consumer demand met by products like Better4U Poppy Seed & Onion Bread Bowls, and Emmi Fondu.

Other entries also had great brand stories, like Honchos chips by Deep River Snacks, and Skylar Rae cherries from Stemilt.

Toast, a U.K.-based design and marketing agency, has this advice for anyone planning to launch a new food product:

* Be brave: Get your target audience to take notice of what you have to say.

* Know your market: Where do they shop, what do they shop for, and why?

* Make it your passion: People love a great brand story.

* Make it different: Fill a need that's not being met.

* Make it consistent: Give consumers a reason to trust you and buy your product again and again.

* Be realistic: Success usually doesn't come overnight.

Our panel truly enjoyed experiencing the bravery and passion behind this year's PG Editors' Picks entries. We believe that they'll be a hit for grocers who feature them front and center for today's progressive shoppers.

Among Friends Papa Tom's Perfect Pancake and Waffle Mix

$4.99/11.3-ounce package

Knowing that Papa Tom's Perfect Pancake and Waffle Mix is Among Friends' first extension beyond dessert mixes makes the cinnamon notes easier to understand. This tasty, slightly sweet mix is great for breakfast lovers avoiding gluten. Directions recommend making the entire package, which renders the $4.99 tag a tad pricey. The addition of cinnamon gives the product a unique homey taste and smell. Other key ingredients in this clean-label product include whole grain sorghum flour, whole grain oat flour, brown rice flour and almond meal.

Angie's BoomChickaPop Sweet Barbeque Popcorn


The latest flavor from Angie's BoomChickaPop is a great example of how the snack category is delivering better-for-you products with style. The folks at Angie's say their new Sweet Barbeque Popcorn evokes Kansas City flavor; the smoked paprika, sea salt, onion and garlic deliver a nice zing. At 80 calories per cup, it hits several wellness trends -- gluten-free, whole grain, no high-fructose corn syrup (it's sweetened with cane and maple sugars) -- and it's made with non-GMO popcorn.

Arla Cheese Slices

$3.99/10 slices

A farmer-owned cooperative known for cheese, butter and dairy ingredients, Arla is stepping up its game in branded dairy products. One of two new products we're recognizing is a line of sliced natural cheeses, including Havarti, Gouda, Fontina and Muenster varieties. These convenient, delicious cheeses are great for sandwiches or snacking. Additionally, the brand tells a nice farm-to-table story, with products made with milk from cows not treated with synthetic growth hormones, and without artificial colors or preservatives.

Arla Cream Cheese

$2.99/7-ounce tub

Simplicity is a huge trend, and Arla's new line of cream cheese reflects that demand. This rich, flavorful spread boasts just four core ingredients -- milk, cream, cheese culture and salt -- with no added stabilizers, thickeners, artificial flavors or preservatives. We enjoyed all five flavors offered, with Peppercorn being the most original for this type of product. The cream cheese also comes in Original, Light, Herbs & Spices, and Blueberry.

Atkins Harvest Trail Bars

$6.99/5-count box

Nutritional bars compete in a crowded market, but it can often be a case of "buyer beware" when it comes to the actual nutrition. Atkins' Harvest Trail Bars clock in at only 4 grams of net carbs (13 grams of carbohydrates minus the 9 grams of fiber) and only 1 gram of sugar. The cello window on the box puts the product front and center, allowing consumers to see the whole nuts and fruit pieces as well as the drizzle of chocolate on the dark chocolate peanut butter variety, and bolstering the impression that the bars are a "whole" food. Varieties: Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Dark Chocolate Cherry & Nuts, and Vanilla Fruit & Nut.

Best Damn Cherry Cola

$9.61/6-pack bottles

Anheuser-Busch has a winner with its latest entry in the popular hard-soda category. Sold under the beer giant's Best Damn Brewing Co. brand, this spiked cherry cola aims to capture preferences shifting away from traditional beers, especially among Millennials, and toward beverages with sweeter taste profiles. We enjoyed this hard pop, which the maker says is aged on cherries after brewing and combines caramel and cola spice notes with a delicious cherry taste.

Body Armor SuperDrink Blackout Berry Sports Drink


Following a super-challenging workout, one needs a super-hydrating beverage. And considering that today's consumers don't want products sporting ingredient decks loaded with hard-to-pronounce words, a more natural beverage would do better helping today's consumers recover from workouts. Body Armor SuperDrink provides not only natural ingredients -- made with natural flavors, natural sweeteners and electrolyte-rich coconut water -- but also the contents needed to recover from the most strenuous of workouts, with vitamins A, E, B6, B12 and C, in addition to the electrolytes. We tried Blackout Berry, a new flavor made in conjunction with star athlete Kobe Bryant, an investor in the brand, and found it both refreshing and replenishing without the overly salty flavor some sports drinks possess. We also didn't detect any sour or salty flavors some coconut waters have. We'd be happy to hit the gym more frequently if it means recovering with this tasty beverage.

Boulder Organic Chicken Vegetable Chili


Boulder Organic teams restaurant quality with a free-from sensibility to create this hearty and delicious chili that's easy to prepare, enhancing shopper choice in the deli refrigerated section. Made in small batches, the chili is both certified organic and gluten-free, as well as Non-GMO Project Verified. It's a flavorful blend of pinto, kidney and garbanzo beans, enriched with organic chicken, tomatoes, corn, carrots and zucchini. This filling item offers a satisfying kick that doesn't overwhelm the flavor.

Better4U Poppy Seed & Onion Bread Bowls


Turnkey entertaining is on trend right now, and these bread bowls from Better4U are a timesaver and an inspiration for creativity. They're sold in two unfilled shells per package, presenting a host of serving options -- soup, chili, stew, dips, sauces and even egg scrambles. The bread bowls also come in Multi-Grain, Wheat, and Cornmeal & Jalapeno varieties.

Brownie Brittle Organic Flavors

$4.99/5-ounce package

Brownie Brittle already has legions of fans enamored of its sensible decadence, and it's sure to attract more now that there's an organic version of the popular treat. Made with USDA certified-organic ingredients, the new line consists of two unique flavors: Chocolate & Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate & Pretzel. We liked the sweet-and-salty combination of the pretzel variety, and chocolate and coconut is always a great pairing. These two varieties come in 5-ounce resealable packages; a Chocolate Chip flavor also is available in a 16-ounce club-size bag.

Buck Wild Caramel Bourbon and Chipotle Cheddar Popcorn

$3.49/4.4-ounce bag

With myriad cheesy or caramel-covered popcorns on the market today, it's hard to stand out from the crowd without adding a little something extra to kick the flavor up a notch. Understanding the current popularity of all things bourbon-and chipotle-flavored, WildRoots Foods LLC introduced two varieties of popcorn under its Buck Wild brand: Caramel Bourbon and Chipotle Cheddar, both of which offer a twist on traditional favorites. Both are made with real ingredients, and are free from any artificial flavors or preservatives, gluten, trans fats, and high-fructose corn syrup. Our taste testers enjoyed the rich, buttery sweetness of the Caramel Bourbon Popcorn, which was rounded out by smooth bourbon notes, and the zesty cheddar zing of the Chipotle Cheddar Popcorn, which was balanced by a smoky flavor and mild bite.

Buck Wild Jalapeno Jack Tortilla Chips

$3.49/5.5-ounce bag

Ingredient decks are getting more attention from consumers than ever before. In response, manufacturers are reformulating current products and developing new ones to contain "real" ingredients. In the salty snack category, WildRoots Foods LLC is following this trend wholeheartedly with its Buck Wild products, and of the line's newest offerings, Jalapeno Jack Tortilla Chips. The whole grain, gluten-free chips are made with real Monterey Jack and Romano cheeses, as well as diced jalapeno peppers. They contain zero trans fats, no artificial flavors or preservatives, and no high-fructose corn syrup. Our taste testers found the chips' flavor refreshingly bold, and their texture delightfully crunchy. The tasters were also pleasantly surprised to see whole pieces of diced jalapenos in the chips -- proof that they were enjoying something truly unique.

Bud Light Lime Water-Melon-Rita


Anheuser-Busch hit the jackpot in 2012 when it leveraged the heft of its Bud Light brand to launch a line of ready-to-drink margaritas. With a core line augmented by rotating seasonal flavors, the brand continues to drive growth in the beverage alcohol category. The latest hit in A-B's "Rita" family is Bud Light Lime Water-Melon-Rita. Offering the taste of a watermelon margarita with a twist of Bud Light Lime, the beverage proves crisp and refreshing. We expect this new variety will have many fans and continue to drive incremental category growth for retailers.

Cadbury Royal Dark Salted Caramel Squares


Consumers still want indulgence, but they want to feel better about it. Enter portion control: These premium chocolate pouches feature individually wrapped tasting squares. The rich, creamy caramel with a hint of sea salt offers a great balance to the Cadbury Royal dark chocolate. Elegant packaging further contributes to the image of a luxury product with a luxurious taste.

Caribou Premium Iced Coffee

$2.99/14-ounce; $3.49/32-ounce

Consumers who enjoy the coffeehouse, K-cup and ground coffee experience offered by the Caribou Coffee brand now have a ready-to-drink option at home, thanks to Dean Foods. Available in 14-ounce single-serve and 32-ounce multiserve bottles, these flavored iced coffees are blended with real milk and use real sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup. A regular iced-coffee drinker in our office liked the clean label, appreciated that it wasn't too sweet and most enjoyed the flavor of the Sea Salt Caramel variety. Chocolate Mocha and Vanilla round out the line.

Chef's Cut Real Chicken Jerky Buffalo Style


Among the new brands driving excitement in the meat snack category is Chef's Cut, which has been rolling out high-quality offerings in a variety of zesty, on-trend flavors. The latest: Buffalo-style chicken jerky, which evokes the ever-popular wings' flavor with a combination of cayenne pepper, sea salt and garlic. The bold flavors envelop 100 percent white-meat chicken breast, which delivers an in-demand dose of protein in exchange for 70 gluten- and nitrate-free calories.

Cinnabon Frosting Filled Muffin & Marble Pound Cake


Want to create some excitement in the in-store bakery? Create a convenient yet decadent confection that's co-branded with a consumer favorite. CSM Bakery Solutions wins on all counts with two of its latest releases: a frosting-filled muffin and a marble pound cake, both boasting the popular cinnamon roll flavor profile of Cinnabon. The muffins, offered in packs of four, are stuffed with cream cheese frosting and topped with cinnamon streusel. Meanwhile, the cake, lavished with cinnamon and sour cream, is ready to take home. They're decidedly not better-for-you, but they make for a nice splurge that's sure to drive traffic to your bakery department.

Cobblestone Bread Co. Right Size Loaves


Households are trending smaller: singles, single parents, couples without kids. As a result, the good ol' family-size loaf is going bad before many have had a chance to finish it. Flowers Foods scores with Right Size Loaves, sold under its Cobblestone Bread Co. brand. We enjoyed the taste and texture -- and on-trend goodness -- of the aptly named Knead for Seed. Also, the Brooklyn Rye was just perfect for one of our tasters, who's the only rye bread fan in his house.

Combos Baked Snacks Sweet & Salty Chocolate Fudge Pretzel


The sweet-and-salty trend shows no signs of slowing down, and hybrid snacks continue to land on grocery store shelves. One of the latest is the newest variety in Mars' Combos line: Sweet & Salty Chocolate Fudge Pretzel offers a crunchy pretzel shell filled with creamy fudge. We enjoyed the marriage of flavors and think it's a great follow-up to Mars' earlier launch of Combos pretzels with caramel creme and vanilla frosting.

Crunchies Freeze Dried Beets

$4.99/resealable pouches; $1.69/single-serve pouch


Not all single-ingredient freeze-dried products work, primarily for textural reasons. But the process works magic on dense beets, which retain their antioxidants and taste, but deliver the added benefit of crunch. For beet lovers -- and we know not everyone is one -- they make a great on-the-go snack or crunchy, colorful and healthful addition to salads and other dishes. Beets are the first foray away from freeze-dried fruit for Crunchies Natural Food Co., which also works its magic on berries, bananas and pineapple.

Cucina Di Carla Spicy Sausage Ravioli


Fresh pasta and clean, cooked ingredients unite beautifully in Cucina di Carla Spicy Sausage Ravioli. Large pillows of fresh tomato pasta are filled with a cooked mixture of Italian sausage, red bell peppers, pecorino Romano and whole-milk mozzarella cheeses. An admirable ingredient statement and excellent-tasting pasta add up to dinner in minutes.

Dasani Sparkling Slim Cans


Coca-Cola has given its sparkling water, launched in February 2014, a needed packaging makeover, putting it in striking silver 12-ounce slim cans. Rather than 12-packs of standard 12-ounce cans, Dasani Sparkling is now available in 8-packs of slim cans. New varieties include trendy Raspberry Lemonade and Tropical Pineapple. The new look supports the natural clean label for the simple, zero-calorie flavored sparkling water. Existing varieties include Lime, Berry, Black Cherry and Lemon.

Deep River Snacks Honchos Peach Habanero Tortilla Chips


Speaking of sweet and salty, these tortilla chips from Deep River Snacks took us by surprise -- we'd seen sweet heat in a barbecue sauce, but on a tortilla chip? Our tasters weren't unanimous in their admiration of the peach-habanero marriage, but overall we appreciated the innovation, and its advocates really liked the flavor mashup. Made with organic, non-GMO ingredients, Honchos also tells a great brand story: The company's founder was inspired by his autistic son, who couldn't tolerate artificial dyes in many snack chips. Plus, Deep River donates 10 percent of its annual profits to a different charity partner for each flavor.

Dove Chocolate Fruit & Nut


Mars already has a winner with its Dove branded line of dark chocolate-enrobed fruit and took the idea up a notch by adding spiced nuts to the mix, leveraging three growth areas in the snack category. This line extension debuted in three flavor combinations: Strawberry & Cocoa Almond, Blueberry & Vanilla Cashew, and Raspberry & Honey Roasted Almond. The chocolate is derived from 100 percent pure cocoa butter and specially selected cocoa beans.

Duke's Smoked Shorty Sausage Pouches

$1.99/1.25-ounce single-serve package

As longtime fans of Duke's small-batch meat snacks, we eagerly await the addition of new flavors to the lineup. But we were even more impressed when its latest flavors were accompanied by an innovative packaging format. Still offered in multiserve resealable bags, Duke's now offers its Shorty smoked sausages in single-serve pouches. They're great for convenience and portion control, as well as for creating new merchandising options for retailers. We enjoyed both new varieties, Hatch Green Chile and Chorizo & Lime, which, along with the brand story -- sausages hand-hung and slow-dried for days in limited-size batches -- answer the growing call for bold, authentic flavors.

ElevAte Meals


This new superfood brand from Ready Pac Foods speaks to consumers interested in clean eating and functional nutrition. Claiming to be the first non-GMO, organic and gluten-free-certified complete meal option available, ElevAte offers convenient nutrition on the go and incorporates nutrient-dense ingredients full of antioxidants and omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Ingredients include dark cacao, goji berries, nutrient-rich leafy greens, legumes, nuts, organic white-meat chicken, and dressings made with matcha green tea, blueberries and hempseeds, for a fresh-tasting, definitely on-trend offering. Additionally, our tasters loved the quirky flavor names, including Blu-Rugula, Go-Go-Goji and Kale Caesar.

Emmi Fondu


Just as shoppers are looking for convenient solutions to meals, they also are looking for easy "wow" experiences for at-home entertaining. Emmi Roth USA answers the call with high-quality Fondu Original Cheese Fondue From Switzerland. The ingredient list makes it look simple, but consumers would be hard-pressed to make this smooth treat on their own. Swiss cheese, white wine and Kirsch brandy are key ingredients. It's a tad pricey, but a sure hit on the cocktail or book club circuit. Adventurous eaters can make this a meal by dipping vegetables, potatoes or meat.

Evolution Fresh Organic Green Lemonade

$3.99/15.2-fluid-ounce bottle

Americans are finding interesting new ways to pack more veggies into their diets, leading to a number of juice blends that contain everything from sweet potato to spinach hitting the market. But these juices aren't always refreshing, which can make drinking them more of a chore than a joy. Evolution Fresh has addressed this reality with its latest offering: a combination of lemonade and leafy greens. Evolution Fresh's Organic Green Lemonade is everything a lemonade should be - light, crisp and hydrating - but with the added benefit of leafy greens and only 10 grams of sugar per serving (two per bottle). Our testers found the lemonade to be refreshingly citrusy but not too sweet, and not overshadowed by the taste of the greens, which actually added to the beverage's fresh flavor.

Fortun's Finishing Touch Soups -Azteca Chicken and Rice


Check off all of the trends this product embraces: no added preservatives, no artificial additives, no MSG, restaurant-quality, crafted in small batches, chef-inspired. It also contributes to sustainability; sold as a concentrate, the product line is shipped to market without the extra water weight, allowing consumers to add the liquid at home. We thought this soup was a little fussy to prepare in our office microwave kitchen - it'll do better on a stovetop at home. Our favorite of the line was the Azteca Chicken and Rice. Made with fresh vegetables, real stock and wines, and premium spices, the soup is sure to garner a following among consumers.

Freschetta Artisan Crust Pizza - Chicken & Fire Roasted Vegetable


The Schwan Food Co. has been a leader in driving innovation and creativity in the frozen pizza category. Its latest winner is Freschetta Artisan Crust pizza, which features a differentiated, 51 percent multigrain crust made with a blend of three whole grains, delivering a slightly sweet flavor, hearty texture and all of the benefits of whole grains. The chicken and roasted vegetable toppings were a nice change of pace from standard pizza fare. From above and below, this offering from Freschetta should win many new fans looking for something different in their grocer's frozen pizza case.

Frieda's Adorable Kumquats

Market price/8-ounce pouches

Our tasters weren't sure they'd ever eaten a kumquat before encountering these samples from Frieda's, a leader in specialty and exotic produce. We weren't unanimously enthralled by the mouth-filling burst of intense sweetness and tartness, but these little citrus bombs have the potential to bring some excitement to the produce section. Additionally, Frieda's has definitely made the experience shopper-friendly: The kumquats come in resealable stand-up pouches with convenient handles and colorful labeling that includes usage tips right on the label.

Gallo Family Vineyards Sweet Wines with Natural Fruit Flavors


These sweet wines from E.J. Gallo Winery were perhaps more appealing to the non-wine drinkers among our tasters. The fruity, light-bodied quaffs aren't intimidating to the uninitiated and are actually pretty refreshing. Among the varieties, Sweet Peach seemed to be the favorite, offering the crisp taste of fresh peaches along with hints of tropical fruit. A fine, slightly fizzy summer refresher, the wine also comes in Sweet Berry and Sweet Pineapple flavors.

Golden Island Chili Lime Beef Jerky and Sriracha Pork Jerky


The latest varieties from Golden Island stand as further testament to how far the meat snack category has come, from a few pegs of peppered and teriyaki jerky at the c-store or front end. Chili Lime Beef Jerky balances heat and zing with the tart citrus flavor of lime. Sriracha Pork Jerky is subtly hot with the bold flavors of red chilies and garlic, with a balanced intensity that doesn't sacrifice flavor for heat. Each piece of gluten-free jerky is individually sliced and marinated, and then fire-grilled or kettle-cooked to maximize its intense flavors and moist, tender texture.

Good Food Made Simple Pancake Puffs


There's plenty of room for growth in the breakfast category for supermarket retailers, and these pancake puffs from Good Food Made Simple are a standout. The brand name alone is a selling point. Described as Belgian-style gourmet bites, they thaw in minutes on your room-temperature plate. The puffs are offered in Original and Banana (there was no clear favorite among our tasters -- we liked them both). We also like that they're preservative-free and made with real eggs, butter and milk.

Good Health Mickey Shaped Veggie Chips


Good Health, maker of Veggie Stix, has launched kid- and mom-friendly Mickey Shaped Veggie Chips, featuring the iconic shape of Mickey Mouse's head in yellow, red-orange and green chips. While potatoes dominate the ingredient list, a variety of other vegetables provide color and nutrition, including dehydrated tomatoes, green pepper and spinach. Front- and back-of-package callouts claim that 1 ounce of the snack chips contain the value of 2.5 cups of broccoli, equaling 25 percent RDA vitamin A; 3.5 beets, equaling 25 percent RDA vitamin C; five tomatoes, equaling 15 percent RDA vitamin E; 7 cups of spinach, equaling 20 percent RDA vitamin B6; and two carrots, equaling 20 percent RDA vitamin K.

Good Thins The Rice One! Veggie Blend and The Potato One! Sweet Potato Snacks


More than ever, people are snacking -- and also worrying about what goes into their bodies. Enter Nabisco's Good Thins snacks, Mondelez International's first snack brand launch in more than a decade. The line, which debuted earlier this year, is made with such base ingredients as rice, potato and chickpeas, and contains no artificial colors or flavors, cholesterol, partially hydrogenated oils, or high-fructose corn syrup. We tried The Potato One! Sweet Potato and The Rice One! Veggie Blend varieties and were amazed at the taste and mouth feel of these delectable snacks. The sweet potato chips, which claim to have 60 percent less fat than the leading regular fried potato chip, have a soft, buttery texture that was almost flaky, as well as a slightly sweet flavor everyone enjoyed. The veggie chips tasted like a fresh vegetable medley of peppers, corn and black beans, also boasting a satisfying, crispy texture that could hold up well to dipping. Our taste testers could have plowed through an entire box of either variety in one sitting.

Graeter's Cheese Crown Ice Cream


If you're going to indulge in ice cream, do it right, and few do it better than Graeter's, which has grown beyond its historic Ohio confines to become a national favorite. Still family-owned, Graeter's is the last ice cream still crafted in French pots in 2A'-gallon batches. This time, Graeter's combines decadence and Old World know-how for Cheese Crown, a flavor based on the Danish pastry long enjoyed in Cincinnati. Cheesecake-flavored ice cream with cinnamon sugar pastry pieces and fondant icing flakes makes for a luscious and truly original treat.

Grainful Tuscan Bean & Kale Steel Cut Meal


Even the carnivores on our team were impressed by this frozen meatless entree, which leverages current demand for food products with whole grains. We found this blend of steel-cut oats, Italian spices, kidney and garbanzo beans, chopped kale, diced tomatoes, and garlic surprisingly filling and very tasty. Each meal contains one to two servings of whole grains and carries the Whole Grain Council's stamp. Additionally, the meal trays are recyclable and compostable.

Herdez Guacamole Salsa


This salsa from Hormel's Herdez brand is similar to one enjoyed by one of our tasters at a Mexican restaurant. It combines the rich, creamy taste of avocados with the zest of a traditional salsa verde. We've come to enjoy the authenticity of Herdez products, and this is no exception. What's more, with genuine ethnic flavors in high demand, this product should score well among consumers. Guacamole aficionados should enjoy it, as should salsa lovers looking for a change of pace.

Herr's Pub Style Thins Sourdough


At a time when hybrid snacks are all the rage, Herr scores with us by sticking to its roots. We loved the flavor and hearty crunch of these sourdough "pub-style" thin pretzel twists, which the maker says were inspired by its German history. Dip 'em if you want, but at least one taster enjoyed them best au naturel to fully appreciate the rustic salt crystals and irregular shapes that impart handmade character.

Hershey's and Reese's Muffins


CSM Bakery Solutions continues to have success with its co-branding initiatives, mating its baked goods prowess with beloved consumer brands. The company was inspired by its partnership with The Hershey Co. to create these decadent muffins. The Hershey's Gourmet Chocolate Filled Muffins, jammed with fudge and topped with chocolate icing and chips, are a chocoholic's dream. We were really taken with the Reese's muffins, however, laden as they were with peanut butter filling, icing and cups, although we indulged strictly in moderation, of course. Both varieties of muffins come in convenient 4-packs.

House Foods Marinated Tofu Cutlet - Teriyaki Flavor

$3.49/6-ounce package

Tofu often gets a bad rap, with consumers complaining of bland and rubbery options. But with more consumers today choosing meat alternatives to add to their dishes, it's no wonder that more manufacturers are flexing their R&D muscle to make innovative products that kill this stereotype. House Foods has sought to do the same with its Marinated Tofu Cutlets, which contain 14 grams of protein per serving while offering such unique varieties as Teriyaki, Asian BBQ, Chipotle and Spicy Garlic. Made with organic tofu, the cutlets are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free and kosher. Our taste testers tried the Teriyaki variety cold on a salad, to which it gave a sweet, tangy zip. They found the product tasty and firm, not soggy or rubbery like some tofu brands. While they didn't try it in a hot dish, they said it could work well chopped in a stir-fry.

Inglehoffer Ghost Pepper Mustard


Heat is at or near the top of the list of the hottest food trends, and few flavors are more sinister than ghost pepper. Beaverton known for its mustards and horseradish sauces, harnesses this Stygian chili to spike its newest mustard. The blend soothes the Scovilles somewhat, but still packs a wallop, delivering good flavor, not just pain. Available in shelf-stable squeeze bottles, this mustard will add punch to darn near everything you put it on.

Kahiki Bowl & Roll


This great meal solution gives the consumer a little something extra. According to Kahiki, 76 percent of consumers serve an appetizer or side dish with an Asian meal. So Kahiki answered the call by adding an egg roll to an entree bowl and voilEa, a complete meal. It requires a few extra steps in prep -- the bowl and roll require different cooking times in the microwave -- but you're off and running in about five minutes. We liked the Chicken Pad Thai with Vegetable Egg Roll; the line also comes in General Tso's Chicken with Chicken Egg Roll, as well as Szechuan Pepper Steak, Sesame Ginger Chicken or Chicken Fried Rice with Vegetable Egg Roll.

Lala Yogurt Smoothies


We were impressed by these smoothies from Borden's Lala brand, which hit stores last January. The surprise favorite was Vanilla Almond Cereal, which offers the rich flavor of vanilla beans and almonds. The taste and texture were quite enjoyable -- we never thought we'd like drinking our cereal! It's definitely a plus for busy folks on the go: a convenient, single-serve dose of protein and calcium. The smoothies also come in Pomegranate Blueberry and Cherry Vanilla flavors. Further, Lala built a clever campaign around its cultured products, promoting their role in an active, healthy lifestyle via social media with the hashtag #yogurting.

Litehouse Opadipitity Greek Yogurt Dip -- Spicy Asiago Artichoke


Litehouse has put a healthy and welcome spin on a popular dip variety with the introduction of Greek yogurt-based Opadipity Spicy Asiago Artichoke Dip. This better-for-you item is made from low-cal Greek yogurt spiced with real artichokes blended with asiago cheese and a nice jalapeno kick, for just 60 calories per 2-tablespoon serving. Other Greek yogurt dip varieties include Greek Olive, Cucumber Dill and Cinnamon Swirl.

Lorissa's Kitchen Premium Protein Snacks



Named for the wife of Jack Link's CEO, Lorissa's Kitchen aims to reach beyond the stereotype truck driver/sports dude image of most jerky products. To be sure, the demographics of meat snack consumers break more evenly by gender than most folks think. This product line breaks new ground beyond its packaging image: It's one of the first widely available protein snack to use responsibly raised proteins, including 100 percent grass-fed beef and antibiotic-free chicken. Also, its four flavors are definitely on-trend: Korean Barbecue, Ginger Teriyaki, Sweet Chili and Szechuan Peppercorn.

LoveTheWild Red Trout with Salsa Verde

$9.99/6 ounces

If ever a product can take the fear out of preparing a simple fish fillet, LoveTheWild's Red Trout with Salsa Verde will do it. This frozen fillet comes with heart-shaped ("love") cubes of "salsa" made of olive oil, garlic, herbs, kale, vinegar and white wine. There's not an ingredient on the label that consumers won't understand. The fillets are sealed in heart-shaped (there's more love!) parchment and baked in an oven or toaster oven for 15 to 20 minutes. So easy! The trout is responsibly farmed in fast-moving channels to mimic a free-flowing river. Other varieties of fish each sport their own special sauce, including Barramundi, Catfish, Albacore Tuna, Pacific Cod and Rockfish.

Luvo Chicken in BBQ Sauce


Luvo continues its quest to bring healthier food to the freezer case, using quality ingredients and solid nutritional profiles. We enjoyed its Chicken in BBQ Sauce with millet grits and collard greens, part of Luvo's line of globally inspired cuisines driven both by chefs and nutritionists. High in protein and using poultry raised without antibiotics, this entree has 20 grams of protein, 23 grams of whole grains and one full serving of product, totaling just 280 calories. The patented "Steamazing" pouch technology locks in flavors and ups the taste and plate appeal.

Mann's Nourish Bowls


Here's a handy meal solution that makes it easy for folks to enjoy healthy ingredients. Each bowl contains a single-serve meal featuring fresh vegetables, grain and sauce that's ready in three to four minutes. Mix the contents of the individual ingredient packets in the convenient tray, heat in the microwave, stir and serve. Each bowl ranges from 220 to 420 calories, depending on variety; those with the most calories are also a bit high in fat and sodium, likely from the sauces, but they're high in vitamins A and C, as well as dietary fiber. Bowls come in Monterey Risotto, Smokehouse Brussels, Sesame Sriracha and Southwest Chipotle varieties.

Mediterra Savory Bar with Kale and Pumpkin Seeds


This nice, crispy bar acts as a treat for the taste buds while incorporating trendy kale and pumpkin seeds into its makeup, along with pea crisps, amaranth, rosemary and extra-virgin olive oil. With 6 grams of protein and only 140 calories per serving, the all-natural, non-GMO and gluten-free bars tap into the love affair many consumers have with consuming a Mediterranean diet. The grab-and-go treats make it easy for busy consumers to turn to a more healthful option when staving off mid-afternoon munchies or craving an energy boost.

Melt Probiotic Organic Buttery Spread

$4.99/10-ounce package

Those avoiding animal fats should enjoy Melt's organic probiotic spread, which offers a buttery, slightly sweet flavor that's easily spreadable right from the refrigerator. Boasting a "Perfect Blend" of "good" fats like virgin coconut, high-oleic sunflower and flaxseed oils, the spread is blended with highly stable probiotic GanedenBC30, which supports digestive health and a healthy immune system. Melt Probiotic is vegan-friendly, sustainably sourced, kosher pareve, Non-GMO Project Verified and made with Fair Trade ingredients.

Minute Ready to Serve Rice Family Bowls


We really liked these family-size rice bowls; they make enjoying this popular side dish easier than ever. The rice is fully cooked, so consumers just need to remove the film, microwave for two minutes and serve. The BPA-free bowls provide three to four servings and make after-meal cleanup a snap. They're great as a simple side or as an ingredient for stir-fries and other recipes. We particularly liked the brown rice (the bowls also come in white).

Nature's Path Qi'a Superflakes

$3.99/10-ounce box

The cereal industry has faced its fair share of criticism in recent years, with too many available cereals loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients while lacking nutrients needed to start the day right. Addressing this issue is Nature's Path Qi'a Superflakes, a protein- and fiber-rich cereal intended to provide energy that lasts through the day. Said to be the grocery industry's first organic superfood and sprouted-grain flake cereal, the non-GMO and gluten-free product comes in three varieties: Honey Chia, with sprouted sorghum, whole grain corn, chia seeds and a touch of honey; Cocoa Coconut, a vegetarian variety with sprouted black beans and brown rice, coconut and Fair Trade cocoa; and Coconut Chia, a vegan variety with sprouted sorghum, whole grain corn, chia seeds and coconut. The cereal is nonfortified, ensuring that all nutritious vitamins are absorbed naturally through the food. We found the cereals not overly sweet and delightfully crunchy, proving that they could hold their form well in a bowl of milk. All three varieties had a premium, natural flavor our taste testers enjoyed, and we could hardly tell that we were enjoying a gluten-free product.

Noosa Blackberry Serrano Yoghurt


Noosa is an ongoing favorite at PG, and it's really got a winner with a variety that's right on top of current flavor trends. Sweet-and-savory yogurts are in, and Noosa is there with Blackberry Serrano, a unique combination of sweet, tart and spice with a thick, velvety texture. The creamy Australian-style yogurt provides a wonderful counterpoint to the kick of sweet heat from the blend of blackberries and serrano chilies. Originally an exclusive to the Colorado market, the item is now available nationwide.

Open Prairie Natural Pork

SRP varies

As many consumers are reducing their consumption of meat in favor of alternative proteins, suppliers like Tyson are responding with products that answer the likewise trending calls for simplicity, clean labels and animal welfare. Open Prairie offers pork that's raised naturally, with no added hormones or antibiotics, featuring cuts that are minimally processed, with no artificial ingredients. The pork comes from pigs that are fed an all-vegetarian diet, except for milk. The huge tenderloin shared with this entry cooked up wonderfully on a gas grill, turning out moist, tender and delicious with moderate seasoning. Consumers looking for natural meat options should enjoy this product, available to grocers for their self- and full-service cases.

Oreo Cinnamon Bun


We're sure many consumers feel that there's no way to improve on the tried-and-true favorite that is the Oreo sandwich cookie. Those looking for a little spice with their creamy crunch, however, should enjoy Oreo Cinnamon Bun, which combines a cinnamon-flavored cookie with cinnamon bun-flavored creme. Will this replace the traditional Oreo as anyone's favorite? Maybe, although not among our tasters. But we still thought it was a great twist on a classic.

Oreo Thins


You won't get thinner eating more cookies. But what if you eat thinner cookies? Hmmm ... well, Oreo Thins deliver 140 calories per four cookies, versus 160 calories per three traditional Oreos. That's not really the point with cookies, though, is it? We loved the lighter, crispier texture of Thins, and were glad we could have an extra cookie per serving. Kudos again to Mondelez International for finding a new way to broaden the appeal of a legacy brand. The item is available in Original, Golden and Mint. Enjoy -- always in moderation, of course.

Perky Jerky Brewmaster's Pale Ale Turkey Jerky and BBQ with Seoul Beef Jerky


The hip, edgy attitude of Perky Jerky is matched only by the brand's ability to come up with innovative flavors. The all-natural meat snack line is already a standout for its tender texture -- not to mention the guy handing out samples velcroed to his body at trade shows -- but we were impressed by its latest inventive flavors, which tap trends in craft beer and Asian cuisine. Brewmaster's Pale Ale Turkey Jerky features natural hops flavor, along with pineapple juice, spices and other seasonings. BBQ with Seoul Beef Jerky is sweet and spicy, featuring soy, sesame and ginger. As a bonus, there are no preservatives, nitrites or added MSG in either variety.

Reese's Snack Mix

$1.99/2-ounce tube pack

This hybrid snack combines sweet and salty in a handy portion-controlled package -- a triple-trend threat. Plus Reese's Snack Mix cleverly extends an iconic brand's reach. In fact, it includes Reese's two famous treats: peanut butter cups -- in this case, minis -- and Reese's Pieces, along with peanuts and pretzels. What's more, the tube pack is perfect for on-the-go snacking.

Salem Baking Gluten Free Moravian Cookies -- Salted Caramel and Toasted Coconut


We've enjoyed many products from Salem Baking Co. over the years. The company excels at creating upscale cookies and snacks, and more recently, as demand for free-from foods has grown, it has raised the bar considerably for the taste and quality of gluten-free products. One of Salem's flagship products is the light, thin, crispy Moravian cookie, and the gluten-free version rivals the original in taste and texture. Our favorites were the Salted Caramel and Toasted Coconut varieties. Made with pure cane sugar and whole eggs, the cookies contain no artificial preservatives, flavors or colors.

Simply7 Kale Chips


Kale might be everywhere these days, but that doesn't necessarily mean it belongs everywhere, with many consumers put off by the flavor or texture issues of so many kale-rich products. Enter Simply 7 Snacks' Simply7 Kale Chips, said to be the first-ever kale-and-potato chips on the market. We tried three flavors -- Sea Salt, Dill Pickle, and Lemon & Olive Oil -- all of which are kosher-certified, Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free and vegan. While all three provided a satisfying crunch and were durable enough for dipping, the last of the trio proved to be the favorite among our tasters, who enjoyed its fresh, delightful Mediterranean flavor, which made it tough to stop snacking. The excellent texture and flavor almost made us forget that we were enjoying the health benefits of a traditional kale chip without any artificial ingredients.

Simply Artisan Simple Seasons Feta and Blue Cheese


Litehouse Foods scores with these shaker jars of crumbled cheese, sold under its Simply Artisan Reserve brand. The company has excelled at cheesemaking for more than half a century, with particular skill in blue cheese, and Simple Seasons puts it in a handy, accessible format that's sure to promote more frequent use as a recipe ingredient or topping. The shaker-top glass jars contain either feta or blue cheese made from five simple ingredients.

Sir Bananas Bananamilk

$3.49/half-gallon carton

With sales of traditional fluid milk lackluster of late, products that provide added protein and nutrients to milk drinkers who are tired of the norm can pique interest. WhiteWave Foods Co.'s Sir Bananas, said to be the first-ever packaged milk blended with bananas, contains 7 grams of protein and 27 percent of the recommended daily allowance of potassium per 8-ounce serving. Available in two varieties -- Bananamilk and Chocolate Bananamilk -- the beverage is free from high-fructose corn syrup, gluten, carrageenan, and artificial flavors, colors and sweeteners. Our taste testers tried the Chocolate Bananamilk variety, which they found creamy and milkshake-like, similar to a liquefied banana split. Kids can enjoy it as an alternative to ice cream, or adults as a post-workout recovery drink.

Skippy P.B. Bites


For many consumers, Skippy means peanut butter, and parent company Hormel Foods' innovation takes this favorite spread into the snack aisle. Skippy P.B. Bites are a portable, poppable snack featuring a crunchy center with a soft, nonsticky peanut butter coating. The first product of its kind in the category, it offers 5 grams of protein per serving. Some of our tasters found them potentially addictive. The bites come in two varieties -- pretzel and double peanut butter -- to satisfy fans of both creamy and crunchy.

Skylar Rae Cherries


We have tasters who are mad for Rainier cherries, which may have met their match in the Skylar Rae variety from Stemilt. These orangey-red-yellow cherries are firm, crisp, juicy and wonderfully sweet. According to Stemilt, they contain the highest sugar levels of any commercially grown cherry. In any case, the Skylar Rae -- which was found growing by chance 12 years ago in Washington state -- is a winning product with a bittersweet brand story: It's named for the late infant daughter of the growers who discovered the cherry on their farm. The fruit comes in pouch bags and clamshells.

Snickers Crisper

99 cents-$3.99

Altering a beloved product is always a risk, but Mars wins with Snickers Crisper. The iconic candy bar gets a crunchy boost of crispy rice, satisfying the growing market demand for new textures in the candy category, and enhancing the peanuts, caramel and milk chocolate. Also, Snickers Crisper comes in a format that promotes sensible indulgence: Single packs feature two 100-calorie pieces, allowing consumers (with willpower) to save one for later. The item also comes in a "4 to Go" pack and bags of "fun-size" bars.

The Spice Lab Olive Oil Herb Blend - Spicy Italian Roasted Garlic


This will be the new "everything" seasoning, a perfect way to spice up everything from bread and pizza to more complex sauces and marinades. Crushed red pepper, garlic, oregano, sea salt and spices are packaged in a refillable grinder bottle for even fresher taste and aroma.

Stonyfield Plain Organic Whole Milk 100% Grassfed Yogurt

$1.69/6-ounce cup; $4.99/32-ounce tub

Grass-fed beef is growing in popularity, and coming up behind it is milk from grass-fed cows, which has been shown to have higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventional milk. CLA is a fatty acid linked to protection from colorectal and breast cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Stonyfield leveraged those benefits to create its latest product, Organic Whole Milk 100% Grassfed Yogurt. Shown to promote satiety better than lower-fat products, the full-fat yogurt teems with vitamins and nutrients. It also comes plain, allowing plenty of opportunities for flavor personalization.

SweetLeaf Liquid Stevia Caramel Sweet Drops

$3.99/50-milliliter bottle

Americans' love affair with sweet products is as strong as ever, even as they look for healthier alternatives to satisfy their cravings. Just a drop or two of this caramel-flavored natural stevia sweetener can liven up a variety of products made at home, or it can be added it to beverages like coffee or smoothies for an extra hit of sweetness without any extra calories or unpleasant aftertaste. One small bottle provides 50 servings of sweetness, and with only five ingredients, the better-for-you sugar alternative provides a flavorful zero-calorie experience.

Think Thin Protein Smoothie Mixes


This innovative home mix combines the three building blocks for a smoothie: real fruit, a protein boost and mix-ins. Each pre-portioned package delivers 15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, real fruit pieces and 160 milligrams of omega-3 ALAs from chia seeds and ground flaxseed, all of which are blended with almond milk and ice. Our team taster particularly enjoyed the Peanut Butter Banana variety. The directions are easy to follow and suggest alternative liquids to almond milk. Additionally, the 6-ounce fill line on the package takes the guesswork out of making a full cup exactly.

Ticklebelly Cakebars


We thought these new cake-on-a-stick treats were really neat. They're right on trend for portion control, personalization and sensible indulgence. With no artificial preservatives, colors or flavors, Ticklebelly Cakebars are enveloped in a sweet confectionary coating and sprinkled with delicious toppings. At less than 150 calories a bar, they come in Dark Chocolate, Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cookies n' Cream, and Salted Caramel Shortbread varieties, as well as seasonal flavors, all presented in cleverly designed packaging.

Way Better Nacho Cheese Chips


We're already fans of Way Better's line of chips made from sprouted grains (sweet chili, anyone?), so we were thrilled to see this latest entry. It's definitely a winner -- Way Better scores with this more traditional tortilla chip flavor profile, delivering tangy cheesiness with a little kick at the back end. Gluten-free and non-GMO certified, the chips are rife with seeds that contribute to a delightfully rustic texture and a satisfying crunch.

Trident White Bubble Gum


Functional foods are trending, and that functionality has extended to confections with Trident White Bubble Gum, the latest from the legacy brand of chewable treats. Maker Mondelez International says that chewing this gum whitens teeth in as little as four weeks. While we didn't chew it constantly for that duration, our tasters found the gum pleasant and refreshing (as well as a nice break from consuming all of the calories required to judge this contest). We'll look forward to the bonus of its teeth-whitening prowess.

Wish-Bone E.V.O.O.


Pinnacle Foods takes shelf-stable bottled salad dressings up a notch with its Wish-Bone E.V.O.O. line. Like the name says, it's made with extra-virgin olive oil, which is known for its healthier fats and antioxidant properties. Looking to invigorate the category by tapping demand for innovative products that are also healthy, Pinnacle scores with these premium-tasting dressings. Our favorites were the Caesar Vinaigrette, which captures the classic flavor profile well, and the Roasted Red Pepper, a robust dressing with chunks of veggies. The line also comes in Garlic Basil Italian, Lemon Herb and Sundried Tomato.

Yasso Frozen Greek Yogurt -- Cinnamon Bun


Where is Greek yogurt going next? Yasso has been successful freezing it on a stick as a better-for-you treat. Our favorite of the brand's latest line additions is Cinnamon Bun, which we think is unique and sets the Yasso brand apart from other frozen desserts. We liked that the flavor was subtle and not artificial. Each frozen bar contains 100 calories, 5 grams of protein and the healthy nutritional profile of Greek yogurt -- nicely done.
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Title Annotation:Progressive Grocer announces 2016 Editors' Picks Winners
Author:Dudlicek, Jim
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 1, 2016
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